Study visit – London’s Hottest Postcode

I attended the study visit (or possibly better described as the exhibition opening) of Hazel Bingham’s work on buildings and their environment. Before the discussion we were given the opportunity to look at the images on a virtual exhibition site:

Hazel has also set up a Padlet  with a huge amount of extra information about the background of the project:

 We started with a brief discussion of who was there and our work then the tutor -Andrew Conroy – talked about his interest in making connections between the micro and the macro to tell you about the politics of everyday life. He briefly described Hazel’s work as the development of a commercial space, with a large amount of surveillance and unusual use of nature.

Hazel then showed the images as a slideshow with a brief additional description of the images. Later on in the talk she commented that these images were meant to be seen large (I think, although I didn’t write it down, A1). This is a very different scale to looking at it on an tablet (as I did) or at best a computer screen (as I had previously done when looking at the virtual exhibition).  Although we got the gist of the images – I do wonder what it would have been like looking at them full scale – the detail would be much more compelling.

Hazel talked briefly about how she started from the concept of social planning and urban regeneration. But what does this actually mean? The people that move in are those that the planners want (because these are the only people that can afford to) and all (most) of the original inhabitants are moved out. So where do they go? In theory there is some ‘social housing’ included, but very little. There is little resource in the development for teenagers. The group discussed this problem at length including:

  • How much do developers play the system?
  • How much are plans changed when the building starts?
  • How real is the idea of a ‘trickle down’ effect of money and property?
  • Need to remember that these types of developments are commercial ventures – therefore money is crucial!
  • In reality who lives there?
  • How much is it policed? – guards, surveillance etc
  • Will the need/desire for these sorts of communities change with the effect of the pandemic? Many of the units are used by foreign students – will they return? Or businesses – what will be the effect of home working?

Throughout the images Hazel had made significant use of the words that were seen in the area, sometimes they changed over time. They also acted as a controlling mechanism. Go there. Do that.

We also discussed the fact that external spaces in this area are no longer public – they have become privatised. Although, in reality, the rich have always had more access to outside space than the poor (example the New Town in Edinburgh with the locked gardens versus the tenements, or the King’s Forests  – where if you went without permission it was potentially a hanging offence). We also discussed how the use of ‘nature’ – or at least growing areas was used to make a building attractive to buyers. But the other side of that coin is that it can also be used to cover up social problems and avoid questions about the use of an area.

Hazel described how she had chosen this area as a BOW for practical reasons. Building where she lives is slow. In London things happen fast – so within a manageable time scale. She did not ask for permission to take pictures – but this would probably have been different if she was there with a film crew, or even seen as ‘lingering’ (or do I mean loitering?).

Hazel gave useful advice when thinking about long term work:

  • Network (other people may have useful resources or helpful ideas
  • Research
  • Think about what you really want to do (you may be spending a lot of time on it)
  • Think about costing, books will rarely break even, publishers typically want more images than OCA does.

This was an important study group, both for the images that Hazel showed and the extended conversation around them and the problems you might encounter. It was clear that as a group most of the people there were socially aware and concerned about the social environment and use of space.  The images themselves were fascinating. I would have loved to have seen them in a larger format and close up to enable detailed examination – however we might have lost out on the extensive conversation they provoked.

With thanks to Hazel and Andrew for this resource and the learning it provided.

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